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Becoming Students of the Hoof

An excerpt from Dr. Thomas Teskey’s – Breaking Traditions: A Veterinary Medical and Ethical Perspective On the Modern Day Usage of Steel Horseshoes

Becoming students of the hoof–where we have been and where we are going:

We responsible horse stewards are taking a new interest in our horse’s feet. As a veterinarian studying the equine hoof for the past few years, I have found that most veterinarians, farriers, and trainers do not know what a normal horse’s foot looks like, nor do these professionals have a full understanding of how a normal horse’s hoof functions. From pictures in veterinary references to diagrams in farrier texts, the equine foot is represented as a structure devoid of it’s most beautiful and functional characteristics. The prevalence of hoof deformities in the general horse population is so common that they are looked upon and thought to be “normal”–the picture of a narrow, upright hoof, complete with a steel shoe, has permeated our modern culture so deeply that it will take decades and generations to fully expose it as the deformity and cruelty it represents and replace it with an image of a full, round, unrestricted hoof that symbolizes the horses’ strength, health and vitality . Listening to and depending on veterinarians, farriers, and trainers to tell
you what is right and healthy for your horses shows you respect these professionals, but because most of them are not experts regarding horse’s hooves, it is critical that you are at least able to recognize what a normal hoof looks like and know a deformed one when you see it. Only after you educate yourself in these matters can you have an intelligent conversation with professionals and make an informed decision regarding their recommendations.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and it is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” ~ Buddha

Numerous textbooks, a large number of essays, an increasing number of dissertations and an enormous quantity of clinical evidence supports the position that when steel contacts a horse’s foot, damage occurs. As many of us all ready know, most farriers freely admit that the best possible scenario is to have a horse barefoot. Many experienced farriers encourage their clients to keep their horses barefoot for at least part of the year, and many farriers keep their own horses barefoot. Rather than studying and perfecting ways to ensure that the horses fully benefit from what is all ready understood to be “the best” situation, shoeing is spoken of as “a necessary evil”. What we now know to be true is that shoeing is only an evil and never necessary once one studies and becomes familiar with the amazing anatomy and fascinating physiology of the hoof. I know that to apply steel to a horse is extremely damaging, and what follows is a synopsis of just a few of the harmful effects of nailing steel on to hooves:

We have been looking at our horses’ deformed feet for long enough.

The problem actually begins before a steel shoe even touches the horse’s hoof. The preparation of a hoof for the application of a steel shoe is extremely damaging in itself. The natural, life-promoting, energetic shapes of the natural hoof are disrespected and disregarded when a farrier flattens the solar aspect of the hoof for the application of a shoe. The horse’s foot evolved as a conical structure, with a set of domes and sets of triangles collected together in a final architecture that is one of the strongest, dynamic shapes in the universe. Flattening the bottom of the equine hoof demonstrably destroys it’s ability to efficiently perform all of it’s functions, and the subsequent nailing of a rigid steel ring around its lower edges ensures a steady and treacherous progression towards dis-ease in the entire horse. Continuing this shoeing procedure perpetuates a state of physiologic stagnation and predictably leads to hoof deformation. For man’s application of steel to the body of the horse, this resultant stagnation and deformation leads to disease, lameness,
premature loss of use, painful debilitation and eventual early death in well over half of all domesticated horses in the industrial world today.

Steel meets skin:

Nails driven through the hoof walls allow all manner of bacteria, fungus and filth to enter the foot; the once efficient, natural physical barrier to these invaders is breached when the hoof wall is pierced. The conductibility of the nails and steel shoe allow concussive forces, vibrations and sudden, extreme changes of temperature to enter the hoof. Multiple holes in the walls of the hoof, especially over successive applications, lead to direct structural breakdown of the hoof walls by causing cracks, breaks, and by physically leveraging the hoof wall away from deeper hoof structures. Sometimes when a steel shoe is pulled off by a horse, the edges of the hoof wall go with it.

The damage caused by decreased shock absorption within the shod foot is well documented–the horse’s hoof is designed to handle most of the shock absorption required for traveling over any terrain; this is accomplished only if the hoof capsule is allowed to expand upon contact with the earth, passing concussive forces to the cartilages which surround the more sensitive soft tissues inside the foot. When steel is fixed to the hoof capsule, the hoof can not adequately expand and the built-in shock absorbing structures within the hoof can not do their job. Ground forces that once were directed backward and upward are now primarily directed upward, following a vector determined by the presence of the nails, leveraging the hoof wall away from the coffin bone. This is exactly like lifting on the end of your fingernail and tearing it off the nail bed at the tip of your finger. Every horse that is shod will have some amount of laminar separation–it is a physiologic certainty. Whether grossly visible or microscopically, every shod foot has separation. This situation sets a horse up quite well for chronic laminitis, or often an acute founder situation after overeating or becoming sick. The sole is held in a vaulted position in a shod hoof, no longer allowed to flatten slightly with footfall, and is now forced to receive a beating from the coffin bone above. All of the joints, cartilages and ligaments higher in the horse’s leg, extending further up and in to the back and entire body, must now take up the task of dissipating concussive forces, a job these structures never evolved, nor are designed, to handle. The result is extra wear and tear which produces measurable damage to these areas. Truly, much of many horses’ back soreness and leg lameness are directly due to damage from having to withstand concussive forces that they were not designed for–all because the natural shock absorbing function of the hooves has been compromised by the application of steel shoes.

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